Feb 7, 2015

PhD Abstract: Determinism, moral responsibility, and divine involvement in evil

I just wrote the abstract of my PhD dissertation, and thought I would communicate it here to share and clarify the questions on which I have been working for the last few years. If you would like to read the full text of what I have to say on these matters, then join me in prayer that it will be accepted both by my examination panel, and God-willing, by a publisher after that.

Guillaume Bignon
Excusing Sinners and Blaming God
A Calvinist Assessment of Determinism, Moral Responsibility, and Divine Involvement in Evil
Doctor of Philosophy
Middlesex University/London School of Theology

The dissertation examines the two most important criticisms offered in the literature, both ancient and contemporary, against theological determinism: that it excludes moral responsibility, and that it improperly involves God in evil.
With respect to the former—the ‘incompatibilist’ claim that moral responsibility is incompatible with determinism—the dissertation surveys numerous formulations of the charge: that determinism excludes free choice, that determined humans are analogous to pets or puppets, that determinism involves or is analogous to coercion, manipulation, or mental illness. In each case, defeaters are offered to maintain the coherence of compatibilism.
The ‘Consequence Argument’ is then shown, in each of its formulations, to fail to refute compatibilism, as it presupposes an incompatibilist version of the ‘principle of alternate possibilities’. This principle is properly analysed and refuted in detail by two independent arguments. It is found on the one hand to be incompatible with divine praiseworthiness and impeccability, and on the other hand to be untenable for one who rejects Pelagianism and universalism. Given the failure of the principle of alternate possibilities, a positive argument is offered to establish compatibilism.
As to the second grand argument—the claim that determinism improperly involves God in evil—a variety of related worries are examined: that determinism makes God the author of sin, or responsible for sin, or a sinner Himself, or the cause of sin, or a culpable manipulator of sin. Each of these worries is shown to be unwarranted, and considerations are offered to maintain divine righteousness in the face of evil and determinism. Finally, the issues of God ‘willing’ or ‘permitting’ evil are investigated, showing that determinism does not commit one to any untenable position with respect to God’s will and providence.
Putting these together, determinism is found to be compatible with both moral responsibility and divine righteousness.